Vegan Dietary Supplements Guide—Optimizing Your Vegan Nutrition!

Vegan Dietary Supplements GuideDeciding to take vegan supplements doesn’t mean that you have poor health or should feel like a patient.

Whether you are a vegan or a non-vegan, at some point in your life you may decide to take supplements depending on your nutritional requirements.

There is no doubt and as we always advocate, it’s great to get your nourishment through whole foods. But if you’re leading a busy lifestyle and unable to keep up with your nutritional requirements, you can opt for vegan supplements to complement your nutrition.

Further being a vegan, to get a nutrient like vitamin B12 you may have no option but to go for a supplement (they’re inexpensive) since majority get their B12 from animal food sources, though some of them have been found to be deficient in B12 at the latter part of their lives.

Note:

Supplements should never be considered as a complete replacement for the nourishment you get from whole foods, except for nutrients like B12 & omega 3 (EPA & DHA) since whole foods can provide all the other nutrients.  

If you have a medical condition (including any allergies), taking medications, anticipating surgery, trying to conceive, pregnant, lactating, or under the age of 18, consult your healthcare professional to know how these supplements may support or have any adverse effects to your personal conditions before using any of them.

1. Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplements Guide


Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplements Guide

Most of the people, regardless of whether they are vegan or not, can be at risk of developing a B12 deficiency.

This is especially true in the case of people over the age of 50, which is why several medical authorities recommend that all people 51 or older (vegan or not) take a B12 supplement [1] or foods fortified with B12.

Although we only need it in mini-doses, it’s an essential vitamin. Thus the key word here is ‘essential’ and a vitamin one cannot take for granted.

The activities of this vitamin include supporting good cognitive functions especially mood and memory while lowering the risks of neurodegenerative diseases [2] [3], red blood cell production, better immune, supports healthy skin & hair, produce energy, synthesizing DNA, digestion, and heart health [4].

If you’re a would-be vegan mom who is planning to breastfeed your baby, you may want to make sure you have enough B12 considering the health of your baby & you. Talk to your doctor well in advance so that you have ample time to prepare.

B12 comes in a variety of different forms from pills to chewable tablets to sublingual tablets and even implants and injections. If you wonder how B12 is commercially produced, it is through bacterial fermentation of selected microorganisms.

Another easy source for B12 is vegan fortified food, such as fortified vegan milk, fortified vegan breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, etc.

Do note that if your only source of B12 is fortified food, then we would recommend a regular B12 test just to make sure you don’t have any B12 deficiency.

There are four types of B12 you can find on the market

  1.   Cyanocobalamin
  2.   Methylcobalamin
  3.   Hydroxycobalamin
  4.   Adenosylcobalamin

Cyanocobalamin vs. Methylcobalamin—Which is Really Better?  

While cyanocobalamin is the more common and possibly the cheaper supplement, it is chemically synthesized. Methylcobalamin, on the other hand, is the natural form found in your metabolism.

Therefore cyanocobalamin should be converted into methylcobalamin to function, but the body easily does this conversion.

Now the other possible concern, if at all, comes from the fact that cyanocobalamin containing a cyanide molecule.

What should be noted here is that cyanide is used as a B12 stabilizer and the amount of cyanide in a B12 supplement is too small to cause any harm and its safeness is well established [5] [6].

On the other hand, research has shown that methylcobalamin continues in the body for a longer period and at higher levels than cyanocobalamin, which means that your body is supplied with vitamin B12 for longer if you use methylcobalamin than cyanocobalamin.

There is no significant study or data to prove one is better over the other and either type of these supplements gives you enough B12 to avoid deficiency.

For your information, we personally use B12 with methylcobalamin.

Sublingual vs. Oral Vitamin B12 Administration

Some people, especially older adults with low gastric intrinsic factor, and those with intestinal disorders may have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from oral supplements thus sublingual administration may help absorb better.

Why B12 Dietary Supplements Have Higher Doses Than Minimum Recommended Dietary Allowance

Your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 is dependent on the intrinsic factor, in other words  the substance released by the stomach to absorb vitamin B12.

To Illustrate this better, only about 10 mcg of a 500 mcg oral supplement may actually be absorbed if you’re healthy [7]

Further, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin and because there is no known toxicity at high dosage there is no establish upper limit [8].

People with diseases or B12 absorption disorder are mostly advised to take vitamin B12 in high doses as well [9].

Vitamin B12 Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)*: [10]

  •        0–6 months: 0.4 mcg †
  •        7–12 months: 0.5 mcg
  •        1–3 years: 0.9 mcg
  •        4–8 years: 1.2 mcg  
  •        9–13 years: 1.8 mcg
  •        14+ years & adults: 2.5 mcg
  •        During pregnancy: 2.6 mcg       
  •        During lactation: 2.8 mcg

*per day the minimum requirement

†mcg: micrograms  

Vegan Vitamin B12 Supplements

Jarrow Formulas Vitamin B12 (review here)

Vitamin B12 Supplement

Garden of Life–mykind Organics Vitamin B12  (review here)

Vitamin B12 Supplement

Solgar Vitamin B12 (review here)

Vitamin B12 Supplement

2. Vegan Omega-3 Supplements Guide


Vegan Omega-3 Supplementation GuideOmega-3 consists of three important fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) [25]

The Benefits of Omega 3 May Include:

  • The development of sight and nervous system of infants
  • Help to alleviate depression and fight against mental deterioration
  • Lowering the risks of heart disease & high blood pressure, keeping your heart healthy
  • Reduce stiffness & joint pain
  • Reduce inflammation and provide moderate support for immunity

Fish Oil vs. Algae Omega 3 Supplements:

  • Unlike fish oil, algae omega 3 is cruelty-free and environmentally friendly & sustainable
  • By consuming omega 3 from algae, you are getting it from the original source removing the middleman the fish,  since fish get their omega 3 from algae as well.
  • Though fish oil is limited to omnivores, algae omega 3 can be consumed by anyone including vegans,  vegetarians and people  who are allergic to fish
  • By avoiding fish oil, you may avoid accumulated toxins such as mercury, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and peroxides with spoiled fish oil.

For more information on algal-derived food read: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5387034/  

ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA by your body. According to the findings thus far, it is still questionable the efficacy of this conversion and appears to have a limited effect [26]      

Since omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete in the body, the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 effects the conversion of ALA into EPA and DHA as well.

Therefore, avoiding food sources higher in omega-6 fats or which have a higher ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 can positively impact your levels of omega 3 [27]. You can consider using low omega-6 oils for cooking such as coconut oil.

For vegans to obtain ALA the best sources would be ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, hemp seed oil, and mustard seeds while avoiding oils higher in omega-6 such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, sesame oil and most oils typically labeled as “vegetable oil”.

The best way for vegans to make sure that they have enough omega 3  as non-vegans is to rely on plant sources for ALA and vegan dietary supplements for EPA and DHA.

Like many things in life overdosing omega 3 is not advisable, hence try to limit your intake to the recommended dietary allowance given below

Omega-3 Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) [28]

  •        Birth to 6 months:  0.5 g*               
  •        7–12 months: 0.5 g*                 
  •        1–3 years: 0.7 g†                 
  •        4–8 years: 0.9 g†                 
  •        9–13 years: 1.2 g† (male)   1.0 g† (female)                        
  •        14–18 years: 1.6 g† (male)   1.1 g† (female)
  •        19-50 years: 1.6 g† (male)   1.1 g† (female)       
  •        51+ years: 1.6 g† (male)   1.1 g† (female)       
  •        Pregnancy: 1.4 g†   
  •        Lactation: 1.3 g†

* As total omega-3s (ALA+EPA+DHA)

† ALA only  

The FDA recommends not exceeding 3g/day EPA and DHA combined, with up to 2g/day from dietary supplements. Thus a healthy range for omega-3 fatty acids (ALA+EPA+DHA) would be 250mg to 2000mg per day.

Vegan Omega-3 Supplements

DEVA™ Vegan Omega 3 DHA & EPA Supplement (review here)

Vegan Omega 3 DHA & EPA Supplement

DEVA™ Omega-3 ALA Organic Flaxseed Oil Supplement (review here)

Omega-3 ALA Organic Flaxseed Oil Supplement

3. Vegan Calcium Supplements Guide


Vegan Calcium Supplementation GuideEven though there is no doubt that our ancestors got all the calcium they needed from their diet of wild vegetation, the importance of calcium has been so drilled into the collective consciousness that many people worry about getting enough from their food alone.

When 99% of the body’s calcium resides in bones and teeth you know how vital this nutrient is to the skeletal structure [19].

Besides the role of calcium in bone growth & maintenance, it is also required to regulate heart rhythms, supports muscles, regulates blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and involved in nerve transmission, and many other functions.

Our modern lifestyle does mean that there are a number of factors to consider. Most people simply don’t get the four cups of greens per day which are recommended.

While greens, beans, nuts, seeds and certain vegan fortified foods are good sources, a busy lifestyle or simply having fussy eaters in the household can be a cause for concern.

Since it is generally assumed that lower level of gastric acidity can help absorb calcium better and vegan diets are lower in acidity than an omnivorous diet, some may believe vegans require less calcium. But according to certain studies, there don’t seem to be a substantive correlation [20].

Those who don’t include daily greens, nuts, seeds or as a bare minimum calcium-fortified food as part of their diet may consider a good calcium supplement.

What Helps & Inhibits The Absorption of Calcium?

Since the amount of calcium absorbed decreases with higher intakes, it is recommended to take less than 500 mg at a time and even out your intakes throughout the day. This is why a single calcium tablet has only 300-400 mg.    

Vitamin D plays a vital role in the absorption of calcium [31] and other nutrients such as vitamin K, magnesium, vitamin C and boron are important for overall bone health. Usually, all these nutrients are included in supplements.   

Apparently, foods high in salt, caffeine, phytic acid (seeds, grains, legumes, and nuts) and oxalic acid (beet greens, rhubarb, spinach, beets, swiss chard, cocoa, kale, sweet potatoes, peanuts) may inhibit the absorption of calcium or increase the excretion of calcium [32]. So you may not want to take these foods in conjunction with foods high in calcium or calcium supplements.

Note:

Hypercalcemia: Too much calcium in your blood can ironically weaken your bones, create kidney stones, and interfere with how your heart and brain work. Thus we would highly recommend not to depend purely on calcium supplements for your daily calcium requirements [21]  

Calcium Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)* [22]

  •        0–6 months: 200 mg
  •        7–12 months: 260 mg            
  •        1–3 years: 700 mg            
  •        4–8 years: 1,000 mg        
  •        9–13 years: 1,300 mg        
  •        14–18 years: 1,300 mg                     
  •        19–50 years: 1,000 mg             
  •        51–70 years: 1,000 mg (male) / 1,200 mg (female)           
  •        71+ years: 1,200 mg
  •        Pregnant: 1,000 mg
  •        Lactating: 1,000 mg

*per day the minimum requirement

Vegan Calcium Supplement

DEVA™ Vegan Calcium Supplement (review here)

Calcium Supplement

4. Vegan Vitamin D Supplements Guide


Vegan Vitamin D Supplements GuideThis is another vitamin that ‘omnivores’ can be just as susceptible as vegans to being deficient, as it’s best produced by the body through exposure to sunlight.

If you have dark skin, live very far north or south of the equator, spend most of your time indoors, then you could be at risk of having levels that are too low.

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in absorbing calcium and phosphorus in the intestine, so if you’re low on vitamin D, you can also end up becoming deficient in these minerals.

Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health [11] (including teeth), fighting against diseases [12] (immune health), lowering the risk of heart disease [13], and regulating mood [14] and supports healthy muscles.

When you feel you’re not getting enough exposure to sun, then a quality vitamin D supplement can be considered.       

Elderly people who spend all their time indoors are, particularly at risk. There are fortified foods available, but it can really be tricky to keep track of how much you are getting from these sources alone and how well the nutrient is absorbed.

Any Risks with Overdose?

Vitamin D toxicity is usually uncommon even among people who take supplements. Having said that, you may be at greater risk if you have certain health issues with liver or kidney, or taking any drugs. As always, we would suggest talking to your doctor before taking a vitamin and mineral supplements.

Vitamin D3 or D2?

Vitamin D3, cholecalciferol, is the natural form of vitamin D. It is created by the human body when skin is exposed to direct sunlight.

Commercially vitamin D3 can be produced by the ultraviolet irradiation of 7-dehydrocholesterol extracted from lanolin found in sheep’s wool or from lichens (for vegans: a fungal source). Since the latter is suitable for vegans, that’s the type found in many vegan supplements with vitamin D3.

Vitamin D2 also known as ergocalciferol or calciferol, is a derivative of ergosterol which is a steroid occurring in fungi. This is the form found in most vitamin D2 supplements and fortified food.

After going through many studies and research papers it seems like vitamin D3 (the type you get naturally from Sun) is more efficacious than D2, till additional research proves otherwise [15]     

Vitamin D Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)* [16]:  

  •        Children up to age 12 months: 400 (IU)†
  •        Ages 1 to 70 years: 600 IU
  •        Over 70 years: 800 IU

*per day the minimum requirement

†international units

Vegan Vitamin D Supplement

Doctor’s Best Vitamin D3 Supplement (review here)

Vitamin D Supplement

5. Vegan Iron Supplements Guide


Vegan Iron Supplementation GuideIron is an essential mineral and the body needs iron for energy, for a healthy brain, pregnancy, skin, nails, hair, and functioning of muscles.

If you are feeling fatigued and suspect your iron levels are too low, your best option is to have your ferritin levels checked by a doctor to determine if this is the cause.

Remember that a B12 deficiency can also cause anemia [23], so make sure that this is not the case before you start supplementing with iron.

Women who experience heavy periods too can be at risk, whether they are vegan or omnivorous, and it is recommended to have their iron levels checked if they are experiencing fatigue or suffering from a weak immune system.

As with other nutrients, the best way to avoid a deficiency entirely is to make sure you include as many whole food sources rich in iron in your meals as possible.

Frequently used forms of iron in supplements include ferrous and ferric iron salts, such as ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, ferric citrate, and ferric sulfate. Because of its higher solubility, ferrous iron in dietary supplements is more bioavailable than ferric iron.

How Much Iron is Too Much?

Like calcium or iodine, overdosing unnecessarily with iron can have damaging consequences, including inhibiting your body’s ability to absorb other vitamins and minerals in the gut, and may have issues with your stomach & intestines, such as nausea and constipation. Fact of the matter is, it can be fatal in large enough doses.

Any Inhibitors for Iron Absorption?

Calcium can be a hindrance on iron absorption, though more research may be required to be conclusive. Therefore, it may be sensible to take calcium and iron supplements at different times of the day.

Iron Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs)* [24]

Birth to 6 months: 0.27 mg†

7–12 months: 11 mg         

1–3 years: 7 mg        

4–8 years: 10 mg         

9–13 years: 8 mg        

14–18 years:  11 mg  (males) 15 mg (females)  

19–50 years:  8 mg (males) 18 mg (females)  

51+ years: 8 mg   

Pregnancy: 27 mg

Lactation: 9 mg

*per day the minimum requirement

† adequate intake

Vegan Iron Supplement 

Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Iron Supplement (review here)

Iron Supplement

6. Vegan Zinc Supplements Guide


Vegan Zinc Supplementation GuideZinc is an “essential trace element” and only small amounts are needed for the maintenance of health, though not a negligible mineral.

Zinc is essential for metabolism, immune function, blood clotting, thyroid function and the repair of body cells.

Deficiency of zinc can lead to developmental issues, hair loss, susceptibility to colds & flu, diarrhea and delayed wound healing.

Zinc absorption from certain plant foods can be inhibited due to their phytate content. As such vegans are encouraged to aim for 1.5 times the RDA*

Though some vegans may have lower levels of zinc there is not enough research to prove that vegan diets have any detrimental effect on functional consequences [29]

As a vegan try to incorporate zinc-rich foods such as pumpkin & squash seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, cashews, cocoa powder, baked beans, aduki/ adzuki beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, quinoa, and fortified products (like breakfast cereals and vegan meat substitutes) which are varied sources of zinc.

To avoid inhibition of zinc due to phytate, try soaking nuts, seeds, and legumes overnight.

If you have concerns about your zinc intake or experience symptoms of a deficiency, you may consider taking a zinc supplement after consulting your doctor.

Zinc Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)* [30]

  •        0–6 months: 2 mg per day†
  •        7 months – 3 years: 3 mg per day
  •        4-8 years: 5mg per day
  •        9-13 years: 8mg per day
  •        Girls 14-18 years: 9 mg per day
  •        Boys and men 14 years and older: 11 mg per day
  •        Women 19 years and older: 8mg per day
  •        Pregnant women: 11 mg per day
  •        Lactating women: 12 mg per day

*per day the minimum requirement

† Adequate intake

Vegan Zinc Supplement

Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Zinc Supplement (review here)

Zinc Supplement

7. Vegan Iodine Supplements Guide


Vegan Iodine Supplementation GuideIodine is a chemical element that the body needs, yet the body does not produce on its own. Hence, the required iodine must come from your diet.

Do note that iodine is necessary for the thyroid gland to produce hormones. Iodine deficiency and the resultant low levels of thyroid hormone can lead women to become infertile, and increase the risk of thyroid cancer.

According to some researchers, an iodine deficiency may also increase the risk of other cancers such as prostate, breast, ovarian, and may cause unusual menstrual discharge due to endometrial.

Iodine deficiency can have a serious impact during pregnancy for both the mother and the baby as well. It can mean high blood pressure for the mother, and pose a risk of mental retardation for the baby.

Many countries around the world have iodine-poor soil, which results in produce that isn’t able to deliver the amount needed.

This is why you’ll find table salt fortified with iodine available pretty much everywhere, and for most people, this is the most convenient source.

If you are striving for a salt-free or very low-salt diet, then you may want to consider supplementing. Sea vegetables can be a very good source, but they’re not readily available in many countries.  

However, it’s important to note that too much iodine can be just as dangerous as too little [17], and can even result in serious conditions like thyroid cancer and Graves’ disease.

In the US and other countries where table salt is fortified, most people are getting more than sufficient levels of iodine. This is really only a supplement to worry about if you are deliberately avoiding Iodised salt altogether.

Remember that just half a teaspoon of iodine-fortified table salt per day delivers all that you need, and sadly, most people eat way more salt than that!

Iodine Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)* [18]

  •        Birth to 6 months: 110 mcg†
  •        7–12 months: 130 mcg
  •        1–3 years: 90 mcg
  •        4–8 years: 90 mcg        
  •        9–13 years: 120 mcg             
  •        14–18 years: 150 mcg
  •        19+ years: 150 mcg
  •        Pregnancy: 220 mcg
  •        Lactation: 290 mcg

*per day the minimum requirement

†mcg: micrograms

Vegan Iodine Supplement

Pure Encapsulations – Iodine Supplement (review here)

Iodine Supplement

Pinterest Pin: Vegan Dietary Supplements Guide—Optimizing Your Vegan Nutrition!

Conclusion


If you’re not sure where you stand at the moment in terms of the nutrients mentioned above you may consider taking a blood test after consulting your doctor, to know which nutrients, you should pay attention to.

Summary:

  •        All vegans should seriously consider a vitamin B12 supplement
  •        Vegans who battle to get daily sunshine should consider a vitamin D supplement
  •        Vegans who avoid iodized salt entirely should consider an iodine supplement
  •        Vegans who don’t eat enough greens or other calcium-rich food sources may need a calcium supplement
  •        If you feel fatigued and blood iron levels are low, after consulting a doctor you may consider an iron supplement
  •        If you’re not getting adequate omega 3 (ALA, EPA, DHA), should consider an omega 3 supplement
  •        Zinc is an essential mineral and if you’re not getting enough zinc from whole foods then you may consider a zinc supplement



References

[1] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/#h6

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21671542

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9155210

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0014047/

[5] https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/is-the-cyanocobalamin-form-of-b-12-dangerous/cyanocobalamin_safety/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4754328/

[7] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/#h2

[8] https://www.consumerlab.com/RDAs/

[9] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/#h2  

[10] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/#h2

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8642450

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20219962

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2726624/

[14] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2008.02008.x/abstract

[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3349454/

[16] https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-d/art-20363792?pg=1

[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976240/

[18] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/#h2

[19] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9263260

[20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC425063/

[21] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypercalcemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355523

[22] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/#h2

[23] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0062933/  

[24] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/#h2

[25] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3-fats/

[26] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9637947

[27] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909

[28] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/#h2

[29] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/633S.full

[30] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/#h2

[31] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3405161/

[32] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

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